Killing Soft(ly) Drinks

(This story, authored by me, was published in the ‘Delhi Mid-Day’ in March, 2003)

Answering to a query, a world renowned Indian cricketer once said that he did not drink the soft drink he endorsed. Though his words were not enough to create a bedlam followed by a mass renunciation of the product, the expected remark must have tinkled the thinking of any one who listened to him. However, the one who is aware of the ingredients of carbonated beverages would definitely doubt why the cricket celebrity should take that particular drink at all. He knows, the said player like many other endorsers would not take or use anything they endorse for.

Soft drinks have been around for over a hundred years, but many of their deleterious heath effects have not been deeply or extensively studied, and hence not known. However, scientific studies done so far have shown how as few as one or two soft drinks a day can increase one’s risk for numerous health hazards including problems such as obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, and many neurological disorders.  

The demand for carbonated drinks, however, has been rising steadily, thanks to the aggressive ad campaigns unleashed by multi-national soft-drink companies. These beverages have become today’s rage, trend and fashion, especially among the youth. Most of the consumers scurrying around for soft drinks are ignorant of the fact that the colourful fluid coming in attractive bottles does not do a bit of good to them. In an attempt to chill out, our young hearts often ignore why a sports person drinks honeyed-water or fruit pulps instead of the drink he/she says good for health.

As a strategy, the manufacturers keep on changing the contents of bottles to make them more attractive to lure more and more thirsty young hearts. Fifty years ago the average serving size for a soft drink was a six-ounce bottle. Today, soft drinks are sold in twenty ounce bottles and are consumed in much larger amounts.

The average young male between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine consumes over 160 gallons of soft drinks a year. Studies show that males of this age group are the largest consumers of soft drinks.  Many of these males receive over ten percent of their total daily calories from soft drinks. Dr. Charles Best, the discoverer of insulin, claims that teenagers who consume too many soft drinks have cirrhosis of the liver similar to what chronic alcoholics have. There is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver except to receive a new liver through a transplant.

It is a truth that soft drinks, even though they contain a large number of calories, have little nutritional benefit, and are known as ‘empty calories’. Most of the calories in soft drinks are from refined sugars, and there are no other nutritionally beneficial components in them.

A common problem that is associated with consumption of a large number of soft drinks is the increased acid levels in the body.  All soft drinks are very acidic, but dark colas such as Coke and Pepsi are much more acidic. The caffeine and acids found in soft dinks such as acetic, fumaric, gluconic and phosphoric acids cause gastronomic distress. The combination and strength of these acids are so strong that when a drain is clogged a plumber will often use a soft drink, or if a car battery is corroding one can use a soft drink to dissolve the corrosion.

Most carbonated beverages contain caffeine, which is considered to be a mild drug and can have harmful effects, especially on children. Caffeine is a drug that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. Consumption of this in large amounts can cause diseases and disorders such as insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, and deviations from the normal heart rate.

Another very serious effect of carbonated drinks on people’s health is the increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.  The large amounts of sugar, bubbles caused by carbon dioxide, and phosphoric acid that are found in soft drinks remove nutritious minerals from bones allowing the bones to become weak and increasing the risk for them to break. This is done by the phosphoric acid disrupting the calcium-phosphorous ratio, which dissolves calcium from the bones. Besides, dental cavities are often associated with carbonated beverage.

Even those drinks that are labelled as ‘sugar-free,’ ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘low sugar’ can still contain enough sugar to cause damage to the teeth, and they will still contain the same acids as the standard carbonated drinks. It is recommended, therefore, to replace carbonated drinks in the diet with other options.

Better substitutes are not scarce in India, which is the largest producer of milk as well as a big producer of citrous fruits in the world. Traditional and natural drinks like milk, lassi, or others such as fruit juices, sherbet, sugarcane juice, nimbu pani, et al are also thirst quenching and nutritious.

P.S: Once, on one of her visits to India, I asked Indra Nooyi, who was then the CFO and is now the Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, whether there was any difference between Pepsi colas produced in India and the US to which she said the company followed the same formula  for both the countries. I, then, asked her why there was more pesticide residue in colas produced in India in comparison to that of the US. I also inquired, referring to the fact that roaches and their fecula were found in Pepsi bottles, why hygiene was compromised in India, certainly not in the US; whether the company expected Indians to drink anyhting it produced? But, both the queries drew no answers. Their PR people meticulously intervened and said that she had to rush to attend another meeting – a nice and scholarly way of evading unpalatable questions!


Beware, It’s Australia!

Australia RacismIn 1998, a colleague of mine at the Indian Express Business Publication Division, Mumbai, when asked, told me that he was racially harassed in Australia. He went there to study journalism. As I had already read about racism, marginalization and mass murders of natives at the hands of white men in the land of kangaroos, I was too eager to get firsthand information from a person who ‘lived’ and ‘studied’ Australia. Unfortunately, I until then had no friends or colleagues who could provide information on the Down Under.

Since I was an avid cricket watcher then, I had seen racial slurs spewed by Australian cricketers, not only against Indians, but also against cricketers from other countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean isles. One thing is irrefutable true – racism does exist in Australia. The ongoing racial and criminal violence against Indian students in that part of the world is self-revealing.

I sometimes wonder why India as a nation develops cold feet especially in dealing with matters like these. Why the country goes spineless especially when the leadership is required to react and be proactive to situations where Indians are racially abused and tortured under different circumstances.

This apathy and indifference were vividly reflected when minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, said, “I think that this (racial attacks) must be seen principally as a domestic issue for Australia to deal with, within their own society, rather than as a bilateral problem between Australia and India.”

When his comments stirred up a hornet’s nest in India, he clarified saying Australia wouldn’t like India protecting its citizens in Australia like India wouldn’t allow Australia to protect its people in India. It sounded sensible. But, how far should this remain just a unilateral affair where only Australia can do something about it? 

Any nation of pride and conscience would have awakened if they listened to what some police officers, reacting to racial violence, had said. One of them warned that the students should learn to take care of themselves instead of complaining. And, they let law to take a sluggish course.

There have been thousands of racial violence cases reported in the last couple of years in Australia. Victoria police have admitted to four Indians being attacked everyday and 1,447 people had been victims of crimes in 2008.

When an Indian student counter attacked, he was immediately caught and the country’s prime minister warned Indian students of dire consequences. He also reminded India of the number of crimes against Australians in India. When thousands protested in the country’s main cities, authorities nabbed their leaders. While, office bearers of Indian diaspora groups advised students not to roam around at night, not to speak in mother tongues, stop going to restaurants and pubs. Is there anything else that the students should not be doing?
When Australian universities come to India with their education seminars and road-shows, they lure the students saying Australia is a country of multi-ethnicity and plurality. Of course there are lots of good Australians who are against these racial attacks and want their government to take strict actions against the culprits.

Unfortunately, the government hardly takes steps to curb or contain this violence. Nor do they admit that these are all racist attacks, at least many of them. But, they agree that many of these attacks took place in poor neighborhoods and are related to robbery. Even that confession is enough to hold the government accountable. Be it racist or otherwise, it is the duty of the government to stop violence, be it against foreigners or natives.

There are over 97000 Indian students studying in Australia, contributing over a billion dollars to many of its cash-strapped, under-funded universities. If the Australian administration fails to do something about it, India should play its role. It doesn’t mean India should resort to violent means. It should at least be bold enough to ask the other nation and its leadership why it is happening. And, tell them to put an end to it. There are efficient and internationally recognized means of protest. India should exercise them.
Indian government can issue a travel advisory against going to Australia and staying for long. Those who do will do so at their own risk. (Remember, UK issued one such advisory, warning its citizens against going to Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh and Whitefield in Karnataka, the two abodes of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The Baba is allegedly to have sexually molested young Brits and some of them, traumatized, have even committed suicide).

Next, make Indian parents aware of the true situation in Australia, a nation which was until 25 years back a whites-only nation, and have them discourage their children from going to Australia to pursue their higher studies. Other measures include stalling or completely stopping bilateral or diplomatic relations with Down Under. India can even call off its mission in the island nation.

 “Doctor, Heal Thyself”

Let’s be self-critical…

In 2000, I moved to Delhi. One day, while having lunch together with a Manipuri female colleague, she narrated several stories of harassment in Delhi University campus. For their so-called ‘chinky’ features and more western outfits, students from eastern India were easily distinguished and targeted. Female students were surrounded and in some cases abducted and molested. Indians mistreating Indians!

Another group at the receiving end in India is the exchange/UN-sponsored students from poor nations in Africa. During my few years’ stay in Delhi, several cases were reported where these students were racially slurred, calling them ‘kallus’, a derogatory, Hindi equivalent for ‘blacks’

There are frequent attacks on non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai, especially on students from Bihar. Some youngsters were even killed in these attacks!

Is India a racist nation too?  One might genuinely doubt…

Let the Left Rest in Peace…

Left Rest…At least for the time being. It is now time to lick wounds of the polls, if you want, in private. After every battle, there is a rest. A rest to fight another war – may be to gain or lose again. Don’t worry dear comrades in Kerala and West Bengal. This is a shock treatment the electorate awaited long to administer to you…for the wrongs you have committed, for the wicked people you have sheltered, for giving up the very ideologies that brought you to existence, and, of course, forgetting the proletariat.

When you called the church a den of thieves, did you ever take a look behind you to see the bandits, goons, thugs and mafia your camp is embellished with? Open your eyes to see the Pinarayis…they are the enemies you have been looking for…they are the foes you have to fight the battle against…they are the ones who divide us and leave us in the dark…If you don’t wake up and discover the enemies within and the evils that you nurture with your blood and sweat, woes unto you.

They say you make a very good opposition. You can be a very creative opposition making very healthy criticism of the rulers. Your words and actions will check and balance the system. You may blow the whistle when something goes awry or astray. You be the umpires that ensure the game fine and fair.

For the next time, people may not have another dose of the medicine they dispensed now. They might administer a panacea once and for all. They might literally boot you guys out…and pull down all your traditional citadels you hold on to. Beware!

LTTE Prabhakaran – A Hero Then, A Terrorist Now

LTTEI still remember the picture my friend of Pre-Degree had in his instrument box back in the late 1980s. It was none other than Velupillai Prabhakaran’s. The LTTE supremo was then in his tiger-striped, camouflaging military attire. My friend adored him as his hero. While some others had their note books bound with pages of ‘Frontline’ magazine that had colourful pictures of LTTE’s operations in Sri Lanka. Interesting pictures of machine guns, magazines and other military gears. During my occasional trips to the neighboring Tamil Nadu, I noticed in shops and walls, along with MGR’s smiling faces, the blown up faces of Prabhakaran on nicely printed posters.

Yesterday, as was going through reports of his death, I was a bit annoyed by the description most of the media gave to him – ‘terrorist’. I thought it was a convenient truth. How come a hero of the past has suddenly turned an anathema to these people of high morals? Not that I was feeling for him or his ruthless operations. Nor was it that I couldn’t see the tears of a marginalized minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. I couldn’t just obliterate the facts I was convinced of.

In the early 1980s, when Indira Gandhi was India’s prime minister, a special dispensation was granted by her to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The militant outfit’s chief was then permitted to set up a clandestine transmission station to network with his people hiding in the northern jungles of Sri Lanka. Installation cost was entirely borne by the government of India!

For many years, both Congress Governments at the Centre and state governments in Tamil Nadu have strategically played roles in arming, financing and providing military training to the LTTE. Central governments have supplied rifles, pistols, rocket propelled grenades, rocket launchers and rockets to the militant groups. Other Tamil militant groups that were benefited by India’s support include the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOT), the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation (EROS) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), many of whom were finished off in fratricidal clashes by Prabhakaran’s one-upmanship.

The ‘Jain Report – Buried Facts’ (Vol.1), a 36-page booklet published by the Thinkers’ Forum in Chennai, documents the generous help given to the LTTE and other groups by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and M.G. Ramachandran (MGR).

In 1983, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi acted on the belief that an armed struggle by Sri Lankan Tamils – perceptibly backed by India – would bring the Sri Lankan Government to the negotiating table. By late 1983, the training of TELO, EPRLF, PLOT and EROS cadres had begun at Chakrata (near Dehra Dun) in Uttar Pradesh. LTTE cadres were trained later in Karnataka (Bangalore cantonment) and Uttar Pradesh (Frontline, January 17, 1992).

The trained cadres of all groups, including the LTTE, set up 30 camps in Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister MGR of the AIADMK never raised objections as camps came up. The chief minister was known particularly to patronise the LTTE over other groups. Prabakaran had easy access to MGR, who often donated large amounts of money to the LTTE.

As quoted in the ‘Jain Report – Buried Facts’, K. Mohandas, the former Director-General of Police (Intelligence), Tamil Nadu, says in his book, MGR: The Man and the Myth (p.77): “…each training camp was a mini-Union Territory completely controlled by Central agencies, into which the State intelligence or the State police had no entry. It was almost a take-over of chunks of Tamil Nadu territory by the Centre, but MGR was unmoved.” (Frontline Dec.12, 1997)

In October 1984, after becoming Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi put an end to all militant training on Indian soil. Arms and ammunition supplies also stopped. However, once the Sri Lankan Army launched “Operation Liberation” in the Vadamarachchi region of the Jaffa peninsula in May 1987, the practices were revived.

Indian Government with Rajiv Gandhi at the helm arranged to renew the supply of arms and ammunition to the LTTE and its ally, EROS. Their cadres were brought to India for military training. In the camp near Dehra Dun, they were also taught to fire surface-to-air missiles. Some EROS cadres were taught how to lay sea mines. They, in turn, taught these skills to the LTTE cadres.

Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh, the Overall Force Commander of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), corroborates these facts. Depinder Singh writes in his book, ‘The IPKF in Sri Lanka’: “In one of his many informal chats with me later on, Prabakaran was to confide that they received massive doses of financial and military assistance from India and were provided training facilities in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, during 1983 and 1984, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing (the two Indian intelligence agencies) got directly involved in training the militant Tamil groups and providing assistance to them.”(pp.17-18 quoted in Jain Report – Buried Facts)

While the LTTE was still at war with the IPKF, Jayalalitha called a press conference in Chennai on March 21, 1988 to demand that “India should immediately halt its military operations against the LTTE.” She had also warned that there would be an adverse reaction in Tamil Nadu if the IPKF harmed Prabakaran deliberately or accidentally. (The LTTE chief was allegedly captured by the IPKF a few time, but was let free due to the pressure from top echelons)

Jayalalitha changed tack three years later. In an interview published in ‘The Hindu’ on April 21, 1991, she said: “I think that there will be nothing wrong if India thought of a military option (in Sri Lanka) as Indira Gandhi did in the case of Bangladesh.”

Now, nobody knows the LTTE. Nobody owns the LTTE. It is a corpse left on the vast swaths of the island nation. Will it still rise from the dead? That also nobody knows for certain!

PS: By the way, was the announcement of Prabhakaran’s death deliberately delayed? See the timing, after the May16 release of general elections results in India. Had the killing of LTTE chief known to the voters of Tamil Nadu before the polls, would the Congress have won this many seats with the DMK, whom they once called the conspirators of Rajiv Gandhi assassination?

President Mahinda Rajapakse announced a ceasefire a couple of weeks ago when the army was about to ravage the last bastion of LTTE and capture its supremo, and then he declared the defeat of LTTE. Is Prabhakaran really dead?

Varun ‘Gandhi’ – The Poet Who Recites Hate

hate-speechI don’t think he said something new. He seemed just echoing what his masters have been airing for years. As against the king cobras in his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he is just a little, venom-spitting serpent that hisses and spews. And, he does it pretty well justifying his training. So did he do recently at an election meeting in Pilibhit in UP, a constituency his mother Maneka Gandhi has bequeathed him.

Listen to his rabid vitriol against Muslims in India:
“This is not the (Congress symbol) ‘hand’, this is the hand of the ‘lotus’ (BJP’s symbol). It will cut the throat of the (derogatory expletive for Muslims) after the elections… Varun Gandhi will cut… cut that hand”

In the same vein he continued:

“I have a sister… there was a pamphlet with pictures of all the candidates… so my sister, this seven-eight years old girl told me, ‘I didn’t know that Osama bin Laden is contesting from your area.’ I told her, ‘America couldn’t get Osama, but lots of people are going to be caught by Varun Gandhi after the elections.’”

He didn’t stop there, but went on more vigorously:

“Is it not true… that if (a woman) is asked her name and she says Bimla Devi, she is told we’ll see, we’ll think (as to whether or not she would get the aid), give us Rs 5,000 first… But if her name is Saira Bano or whatever begum Hukum Begum… I don’t even know… These people have such scary-sounding names… Karimullah, Mazharullah… If you ever encountered them at night, you’d be scared…”

Then, he spewed more venom:

“If anyone raises a finger towards Hindus or if someone thinks that Hindus are weak and leaderless, if someone thinks that these leaders lick our boots for votes, if anyone raises a finger towards Hindus, then I swear on the [Bhagavad] Gita that I will cut that hand.”

Juxtapose these words of hate and malice cried out by the great grandson of a non-religious, atheistic Jawahar Lal Nehru and the son of a hypocritical mother who sheds crocodile tears over the wails and pains of animals mistreated with those of his masters:

During the pre-Babri Masjid demolition days, Sadhvi Ritambhara, a Hindu fanatic and bigot, said:

“My dear Hindu brothers, today if you are paid Rs.5 for your labor, go to the nearest market, buy a dagger, and drive it into the heart of the Muslim you first come across. For, by killing a Muslim, you will be saving the lives of five to seven cows that a Muslim is likely to eat in his whole life.”

Something similar:

“It is religious duty of every Hindu to kill the people who kill cows” (from the book ‘Khakhi Shorts and Saffron Flags’)

(Hey, saffron fraternity! Americans and Europeans eat more beef (cows). Should they also be targeted like Muslims? Or is this a campaign targeting only those who kill Indian cows? Are the American and European cows not holy? For your information: Hindus, including Brahmins, of the Vedic period used to kill cows and eat beef. (Read ‘Holy Cow – Beef in Indian Dietary Conditions’ by Prof. D. N Jha, himself a Brahmin)

The VHP says:

“The secular state which is part of the conspiracy, must be replaced by a Hindu Rashtra to ensure real toleration. Toleration, to be secure, must then stamp out all that is non Hindu, for what is not Hindu is intolerant”. (from ‘Khakhi Shorts and Saffron Flags’)

“Muslims only place is either in Pakistan or Graveyard”

“First the butchers (Muslims) then the Christians”

Once the ‘great’ iron lady of BJP, Uma Bharati, said:

“It is not only a question of 30,000 mosques and mazaars. All vestiges of Mughal imperialism whether the name of a city, village or road, building, anything that represents the barbarism of Mughal imperialism – should be removed from this country.”

The ‘tiger’ of Mumbai and the voice of the notorious outfit Shiv Sena, Bal Thackaray, in conversation with ‘Time’ magazine:

Q: Why is Shiv Sena attacking Muslims?

A: Muslims started the riots and my boys are retaliating. Do you expect Hindus to turn the other cheek? I want to teach Muslims a lesson. Our fortitude has gone too far.

Q: Why are you so angry with the Muslims?

A: They are not prepared to accept the rules of this land. They don’t want to accept birth control. They want to implement their Sharia (Islamic law) in my motherland. Yes, this is the Hindus motherland.

Q: But Muslims are fleeing Bombay.

A: If they are going let them go. If they are not going, kick them out…..

Q: Is this a stepping stone toward a Hindu nation?

A: We don’t need stepping stones. This is a Hindu Rashtra.

(My dear saffron-clad, ascetic-looking Don Juan, if India is a Hindu Rashtra, and majority Hindus can kick minorities out, can Christian and Islamic nations ‘kick’ Hindus out of their lands too?  Will it be logical too?)

Now listen to what Swami Vivekananda, whom the extreme right-wing Hindu parties hold in high esteem, said in his famous Chicago addresses:

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.”

Is anybody listening?

Kerala Communism on the Wane

kerala-communismIn the 1930s, communism sprouted in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala as a progressive movement. In adversity, it fought against all socio-economic vices in a society that was caste-ridden, socially and economically segregated, and infested with oppressive landlords and so-called upper caste priestly class. It became the voice of the voiceless and the only hope for the deprived and the disadvantaged.

Once a liberating force, the party, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M or CPM), is now becoming a den of mafia, goons and anti-social elements. Once a catalyst for socio-economic progress, communist party is now found in the camp of the powerful, wealthy and oppressors. In place of a working proletariat and leaders who joined the party with deep pockets and left it or the world with deep holes in their pockets, we now see communists joining the party empty-handedly and remain at the helm of its affairs to amass wealth. 

The proletariat has now reduced to a non-working class. Its leaders have become egoists and megalomaniacs. They teach their followers how to ask for wages for the work they haven’t done and to create work where it is not needed.  The party, once clashed internally on ideological grounds, has now degraded to a bunch of boneheaded dullards, whose business is nothing but to do lip-service. There are state leaders who, with a meager income, send their children to foreign countries for education. There are party functionaries accepting millions as donations from lottery and land mafia. There are communist ministers letting sex and money racketeers get away with whatever they do.

In the early years, the undivided communist party and those who believed in the enforcement of economic and social justice worked in absolute hostile environs. The state and its forces hunted down workers and leaders. Nevertheless, the party could enlarge its mass base, mostly constituted by peasantry. The socio-economic cause the party fought for encouraged thousands to join the mass movement. Leaders like P Krishna Pillai emerged from the working class. While, others like A.K Gopalan and EMS Namboodiripad shot to leadership from middle and upper classes. Honest and sincere party leaders and workers inspired more and more people to join the movement. And, in the year 1957, people elected the first communist government in the world (with the exception of the Italian principality of San Marino).

Along with strengthening the state politically, the party was also charging the people culturally and intellectually. Street plays, kathaprasangam (story telling) and theatre (Kerala People’s Arts Club (KPAC) organized by the party worked a cultural revolution that made Keralites a different people, who discussed national and international politics at coffee and dinner tables. Almost all the literary figures in Malayalam in the 20th and 21st centuries are either communists or party sympathizers. Many members of this intelligentsia are now either expelled or estranged and alienated from the party to be private communists and socialists.

The party slid into a growth downward after the death of world-renowned Marxist and ideologue EMS. He was a visionary whose words from each public speech were weighed, discussed, debated and judged upon. His speeches often created political maelstrom in the state. After him, qualities of leaders started tapering. Of the old genre, the state Chief Minister V. S Achuthananthan may be the last link in the chain of stalwarts unless the party reforms itself. 

Unfortunately, communism in Kerala is now panting and gasping in the strangling grip of State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and his retinue. He is a Yelstin on the rise and a Pol Pot in the making if he is left unleashed. (Boris Yelstin, who was also a Communist Party Politburo member, used to control a huge chunk of mafia and gangs in Moscow after the collapse of the USSR, and ‘Comrade’ Pol Pot, who was the leader of Cambodian Communist movement known as ‘Khmer Rouge’, killed hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to enforce  his ‘ideology of justice’). There is no virtue or integrity visible in this leader and his followers.

It is not that communism is on the death-bed now. No ideology dies. Not even Nazism for that matter. The movement badly lacks leaders with caliber, honesty and integrity. A proactive proletariat is also wanting. Party cadres at the grass-root level are too gullible and are too ready stomach whatever the leadership says. Unless they choose and mould leaders the state and its people need, communism in Kerala will reduce to a spent force.

Why Don’t They Get a Space Yet?

no-spaceFor newsmen in the US, this year’s Thanksgiving holidays didn’t go lean as usual. As they were packing up for the long weekend, there descended the windfall – Mumbai terror attack. Most of the television networks here ‘celebrated’ the sixty-hour-long hostage crisis and firing. Unlike the previous major bomb blasts in India’s business capital and in the national capital and other sporadic terror strikes in other parts of the country, this time the networks telecast the event twenty four hours a day and continued for three successive days. (Serial train bombings in Mumbai on July11, 2006 that killed 209 people and injured over 700 was only a story of a few seconds here). Details of the siege were discussed and analysed for days on end. South Asia terrorism experts were invited to discuss it out on the panels. But, what took me by surprise was their focus – the Oberoi/Trident and Taj Mahal Palace, throughout. In fact, the ten-member terror team struck at ten different places in Mumbai, starting with Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), where they killed 72 people and injured 98. Were the lives of ordinary railway commuters less important than the patrons of Taj and Oberoi?

Forget American media not covering the faceless and voiceless. They often do so unless it pertains to their nation and nationals. More surprising was the way Indian television channels, including NDTV, skipped most of the CST episode to focus more on the Taj and Oberoi, where the cream of the society stayed. So far, I had this feeling – at least in death there was no difference, it being a leveller. But, the imbalance and prejudice with which the broadcast media handled the wild gory night at CST got me think otherwise – death could also be different depending on socio-economic standing.

It was at CST, the bloody drama set its first scene, with attackers raining bullets at the innocent commuters. Seventy two people died here, more than the death toll of Taj-Oberoi combined. But, at least initially, nobody was interested in talking about the people killed at the railway station. Cameras overlooked the blown up taxi that brought terrorists to CST and its hapless driver. The innocent children who had fallen prey to flying bullets at the station didn’t interest reporters. They forgot Vishnu Dattaram Jhande and Jullu Yadav, two railways employees, whose timely action saved many lives. Also, the brave motorman O.M. Palli, who defied gun shots and alerted hundreds of passengers alighting from a train. And, scores of others who ceased to exist on that deadly night. None had the glamour the media were looking for.

But, it was not that people didn’t notice this prejudice. A more sensible viewers inundated media mail boxes, questioning media attitude and their approach to the CST carnage. Public reaction spurred the media into action. Camera crews were soon sent to the hub of Mumbai railway. Questions like ‘Could you have been more aware of the suffering and tragedy of those killed in the first few hours at the CST railway station and not got singularly focused on the two hotels? graveled committed journalists. Confessed Barkha Dutt of NDTV, “On this one point, I would concede that perhaps, this was a balance we lost and needed to redress earlier on during the coverage.” But, she ruled out any deliberate prejudice, saying the hotels were more focused because ‘they were the sites of the live encounters”. It would have been more than justified had the CST killing also been given due importance. (Of course, Barkha is one of the most talented and brave television reporters I have ever seen. And, I said ‘including NDTV’ just because I had never expected this treatment from India’s best news channel headed by journalists, not businessmen).

It is true, this time around, elite India has been affected and the affected are people with faces and voices. This was more evident when the star of Bollywood Amitabh Bachhan said, for the first time he had slept with a gun under his pillow. Hence, the politicians have woken up to reality. The first signal in this regard was the stepping down of Home Minister Shivraj Patil. (You know, the aircraft that carried NSG personnel to Mumbai was reportedly delayed for the Home Minister. More lives could have been saved had it arrived on time. My sources in the IB told me, when was in office, the minister kept five-six pairs of safari suit of the same colour and wore a fresh pair for every (media) appearance. He would buy a roll of the same textile material and get many pairs stitched so that none would suspect his theatrics). Bomb blasts and terrorist attacks, therefore, are no longer attacks that kill train commuters and market goers like you and me. It can kill the rich and the powerful too. Let this awareness dawn upon the politicians and media.